A research team at National Cheng Kung University said they have found that an organic compound used to induce labor can revive heart muscle cells, which had been regarded as impossible to regenerate after the first month of birth.
Patrick Hsieh (謝清河), the stem-cell team leader at the school’s Institute of Clinical Medicine, said that prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) can regulate cardiac stem-cell activity and induce heart regeneration in mice, even in aged mice.
Prostaglandins are a group of lipid compounds that are derived enzymatically from fatty acids and have important functions in animals’ bodies.
They have had clinical applications in obstetrics and gynecology, where PGE2 is used to induce labor, but this latest study found that PGE2 can also stimulate spontaneous cardiac repair and may one day be seen as an alternative to heart transplants, the team said.
Hsieh said the team have applied for patents in many countries and are working on developing new drugs based on the findings, but he did not give a time frame of when PGE2-based heart medications might become available.
Describing the compound’s effect as “bringing [cells] back to life” and “rejuvenation,” Hsieh said the compound revives heart muscle cells by removing factors contributing to aging.
Hsieh said the team spent seven years on the study, which has been published in the European journal EMBO Molecular Medicine.
Should the findings result in viable medications for humans, it would represent a major breakthrough because cardiovascular disease, such as congestive heart failure, is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality throughout the world.
About 400,000 patients are suffering from congestive heart failure in Taiwan and 6 million in the US.
Despite intensive medical or surgical treatment, 80 percent of patients die within eight years of diagnosis, Hsieh said.